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Scientists lower Gulf health grade

EDITOR’S NOTE: It will take time to see the full effects of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. In the second of an Associated Press occasional series, scientists grade the ecological health of the Gulf of Mexico.

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. – Six months after the rig explosion that led to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, damage to the Gulf of Mexico can be measured more in increments than extinctions, say scientists polled by The Associated Press.

In an informal survey, 35 researchers who study the Gulf lowered their rating of its ecological health by several points, compared to their assessment before the BP well gushed millions of gallons of oil. But the drop in grade wasn’t dramatic. On a scale of 0 to 100, the overall average grade for the oiled Gulf was 65 – down from 71 before the spill.

This reflects scientists’ views that the spilled 172 million gallons of oil further eroded what was already a beleaguered body of water – tainted for years by farm runoff from the Mississippi River, overfishing, and oil from smaller spills and natural seepage.

The spill wasn’t the near-death blow initially feared. Nor is it the glancing strike that some relieved experts and officials said it was in midsummer.

“It is like a concussion,” said Larry McKinney, who heads the Gulf of Mexico research center at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “We got hit hard and we certainly are seeing some symptoms of it.”

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